Monday, 18 July 2016

Tough as Nails Does Not Describe Me; or, Does the Smell of Garlic Hurt Your Head?

As the "baby" of my family of origin, when I became a parent I wasn't all that prepared to handle child-rearing problems. I loved my little ones fiercely and morphed from shy and accommodating to bold and bearish if anything threatened my kids. But love and protection can only get you so far. I often turned to books to help me figure things out.

That is how I found Dr. Elaine Aron's book "The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You" in the 1990's. I was looking for something to help our young daughter cope with her extreme sensitivity to many stimuli. Smells bothered her; food flavours and textures bothered her; fabrics bothered her; noise bothered her. She was a deep thinker and displayed keen empathy. She became unbearably excited before special occasions and "crashed" afterward. She was what might have been called "high strung" a few generations ago.

I could relate because many of the same things bothered me, although not to such an extreme degree.  I always felt that I was simply lacking oomph or courage or toughness that other people seemed to possess. Secretly I labelled myself "fussy". But having a child even more sensitive than me helped me to see that it wasn't a bad thing but just another part of being an individual, and reading that book made me aware that there were many others in the world like us. It also helped me see that my husband and son have quite a few characteristics of the highly sensitive person as well. They tend to verbalize them differently or not at all; whether that's a chromosomal issue, or a gender role issue, or just their personality, I have only recently begun to try to figure out.

Despite starting to realize those things years ago, it has only been the past year that I've fully accepted that part of me and stopped thinking of myself as weak or selfish. That may have something to do with being quite busy all along, first with children, then with my father's significant health issues. Since he passed away, I've had more time to think and - well, more time, period.

Our daughter is a mother herself now. She has found her own ways to cope with the things that bother her. And so have I. Crowds wear me out, and violent movies make me feel bruised at my core - so I avoid them. Clothing that is the least bit constricting, stiff, scratchy, or silky (that last one is like fingernails on a chalkboard to me) drive me to distraction, so I buy carefully. I get my news from readable sources so that I can disengage as needed. I always have a snack and water with me because I melt down if I get at all hungry or thirsty. I avoid bright sunlight and strong smells and take time alone every day to recharge.

Minimizing the stress of everyday living allows me to be as comfortable as possible in what feels to me like an overly stimulating world. And because the small irritations are kept at bay, I'm usually a more pleasant person to be around now -- and, hey, I haven't always been able to say that. I feel very lucky to have an understanding spouse, and fewer responsibilities than in years gone by.

Are you a highly sensitive person, or do you know one? Click here to find out just what that term includes (you don't have to be on the extreme end of the scale to be considered one), and if you wish, you can take a self-test here.I was so happy to accidentally stumble on this author's work again after so many years. Of course, I never thought to Google it (as often happens, I confess), or I would have found her website much sooner.

P. S. I really need to read the book again. Probably I should have done that before writing this post. But I'd have to find it first. That could be a problem. Heh. Something for my To Do list. Which is already very, very long.


How I feel when faced with things that feel "too much".

How I feel when I take care of myself. I'm the one on the right :)

Thanks to Pixabay for the wonderful free photos that express just what I wanted them to. Because I don't have any donkeys to make funny faces at me while I take their pictures.

20 comments:

  1. Ha! I was going to ask where you got those fab donkey photos. :)

    It sounds to me like some of your choices for managing your sensitivities are good advice in general: Getting news from readable sources, for example. I don't think I'm particularly sensitive but I have my moments. :)

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    1. Dang it, I should've let you think those were MY donkeys! And yes, in a lot of ways the world has evolved to something that is too busy and overstimulating for many folks, sensitive or not.

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  2. As a child my family told me that I had a 'heart like soft butter'. And they didn't mean it as a compliment.
    And yes, it seems I do fit the 'highly sensitive' spectrum. Better than I expected.
    Down time, quiet time, time alone isn't just important to me. It is a necessity if I am to function/cope with the outside world. And somedays it isn't enough.
    Love the donkeys. Thank you.

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    1. "A heart like soft butter" in my world IS a compliment, and you have one and I'm so glad you do. I kind of thought you would fit the profile, too. Kindred spirits, as Anne of Green Gables called it.

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  3. I read a book about sensitivities and how they can affect people, especially children and especially when undiagnosed. There was a really sad story about a girl who as she grew up was jailed and committed to various institutions for her erratic behavior. The researchers read her file and found out that her first "symptoms" were a stubborn tendency when she was a very small child to take off the clothes they dressed her in. It turned out that she was very irritated by the fabrics in certain (most) articles of clothing, and although she did learn to keep from undressing, the irritation drove her to such distraction that she was a poor student and got in trouble a lot, and when she tried to explain herself, NO-ONE WOULD BELIEVE HER. So she eventually just figured that they were right and she was crazy. The researchers caught up with her when she was in her forties, and were able to help her somewhat by finding her some clothes that didn't bother her as much, but the damage to her life had already been done, and there's no getting that back when it's gone.
    Sorry for the depressing comment, but your post reminded me of her story, which as I'm sure you can tell, left a big impression on me.

    -Doug in Oakland

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    1. That IS sad, but it doesn't surprise me, and you're right - she will never get back even a part of what she lost. People's circumstances are so wide-ranging. Some sensitive people are accepted that way, but many aren't that lucky. Thanks for telling me about that, Doug.

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  4. Wow, "...a child... more sensitive...helped me to see that it wasn't a bad thing but just another part of being an individual." Nicely and compassionately phrased. I have learned so much from our 4 kids --most importantly, what sort of idiot I am-- that our bond is solid even though they are all grown up. Our youngest --now in her 30's-- took me through the "Anne" series on PBS (yes, I laughed! I cried!) during her childhood tenure here and I began to understand there is a familiar and recognizable sensitivity to new generations. Good thing too!

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    1. Oh, yes, having kids makes you grow! You strike me as someone very willing to learn, and able to accept everyone's quirks. Those are really important to being a good parent; no wonder you have a strong bond. (And - isn't the Anne series good? I haven't seen the PBS version but we had a top-notch Canadian production that my daughter and I fell in love with.)

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    2. Follows and Dewhurst? 1985 Canadian television mini-series drama film, co-production between the CBC and PBS. Same flick, I think.

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  5. Yes, the test confirms what I already knew.. Thanks for providing it. Funny, I've been sitting in the library this afternoon, trying to work, and everyone has been talking in REALLY LOUD OUTSIDE VOICES. And I wished it didn't make me so irritable! Glad you've found time to think about this and more! xoxo

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    1. My wish usually runs more to "I wish they'd shut the H*** up!" followed by wishing it didn't make me irritable ... did you really skip the first part or did you just not mention it? :)

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  6. I am kidless and only moderately sensitive, but the missus is more sensitive, to various things like clothing (me) and noise (her). However, we have a mule (half donkey) who always keeps us entertained and interactive.

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    1. Does your mule make faces?? I can't believe the donkey expressions I'm finding on the internet! I remember you posted a photo quite awhile ago of your mule. I could stand to see photos like that more often. Hint.

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  7. Hi PD. I took it and was surprised to test so high. It explains a lot, actually, now that I think about it. I think some of my kids have some of the same issues, but where I come from, you just get on with it., you know? I don't think I ever slowed down enough to give those sensitivities enough space-either in myself or in them. Thoughtful post-thank you.

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    1. It's really hard to give those things space because that means something else has to give. When I had other family members that needed me a lot (like you have now), it's tough to find the time. And a certain amount of getting on with things is not a bad thing either.

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  8. This is fascinating. I think I have a friend who matches this description. I love her dearly, but I'm afraid I have wondered why she isn't more "tough." Your post is insightful and I want to explore this more. Thanks for sharing so frankly.

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    1. I'm happy if it's been helpful, Margo. Having understanding friends is a huge help when you are dealing with heightened sensitivities. It's a relief to be accepted as is, and, strangely, that acceptance can also help a person try to stretch their limits because they know they can safely retreat if necessary. If you ever want to ask further questions, please feel free.

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  9. Somehow, i missed this post. I love that mothering your daughter required you to also mother yourself. You obviously did beautifully protecting her sensitive, empathetic spirit. This does not surprise me at all.

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    1. Thank you so much for those words; they mean a lot to me, Angella.

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